January is National Radon Action Month and officials are encouraging Marylanders to test their homes.
Radon is a radioactive gas produced by the natural breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks. After smoking, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. with the EPA estimating it claims the lives of 21,000 Americans annually.
The gas seeps into homes via gaps and cracks in foundations, joints connecting walls to floors, as well as pipes and drains. Radon has no smell, color, or taste and requires special effort to detect.
Dr. Clifford Mitchell, director of the Environmental Health Bureau for the Maryland Department of Health, said radon testing is important and easy to do.
“It’s very, very simple to get one of the simple charcoal canister tests and run that yourself,” Mitchell explained. “And generally speaking, those are very effective screening tests if you have no idea what’s happening in your home.”
Short term radon test kits are left out for two to seven days and are sent off to a lab for results.
While it is commonly believed homes with basements are more prone to radon gas accumulation, experts say homes of any age or design can have a radon problem. Basements increase the amount of the structure in contact with the soil, and therefore increase the number of potential entry points.
Mitchell added soil type can also matter.
“People who live on the shore in very sandy soils, generally speaking, there’s less radon in those soils than some of the rocky soils that are found in mountainous areas or other geologies,” Mitchell pointed out.
Homes relying on wells may also need to consider testing their water for radon.
“The EPA has looked closely at the issue of well water,” Mitchell noted. “We know that again because water is in soils that have radon and that radon as a gas can dissolve in the water. It is possible for water to have radon in it.”
Mitchell acknowledged radon in well water is not as common a problem as radon in the air.